Cloud Storage Rewriting SAN's Future

Cloud storage solutions are all the rage and are dropping in price, increasing in performance and threatening SANs as the primary means of storing data in the enterprise.

April 11, 2012

3 Min Read
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More and more enterprises are turning to the cloud for services, solutions and transformation of services. Simply put, the cloud has become a viable alternative to traditional technologies for many enterprises, displacing existing technologies, and bringing new capabilities into business environments, with little fuss or muss. The big question is quickly becoming, where will it end?

Purveyors of storage technologies are keeping a close eye on the cloud, wondering if cloud storage is poised to displace SAN and NAS technologies anytime in the near future. It is a valid threat after all, since cloud storage offers a whole host of advantages over traditional on-premise storage solutions. Nevertheless, SANs and NAS technologies do offer some advantages that the cloud may never be able to overcome – it all comes down to how storage is provisioned, used, protected and shared across an enterprise.

Network Computing’s sister publication, InformationWeek, recently published a research paper, Research: State of Storage 2012, that touches on many of the concerns surrounding both SAN and cloud-based storage solutions. The author, Kurt Marko, states that 79% of 313 survey respondents still have major concerns about security with cloud based storage services, while 52% (down slightly from 55% for 2011) have reliability and availability concerns.

Concern about cost, however, has dropped from 48% in 2011 to 39% for 2012 – showing that falling prices are certainly having an impact on the viability of cloud-based storage. Performance is another major concern, with 49% of the survey respondents showing some apprehension, a minor drop from 51% for 2011.

However, numbers only tell part of the story. Enterprises are getting used to the idea of using cloud storage for tier 2 or archival purposes, effectively building a hybrid approach, which values SAN for high-speed tier 1 access and cloud storage for everything else.

David Chapa, chief technology evangelist at Quantum, a major supplier of both disk- and tape-based backup hardware, sees the cloud becoming a distinct storage layer, sitting between high-capacity, SATA-based tier 3 systems like virtual tape libraries and offline tape archives. He says “Our surveys show that IT pros may be warming to that idea; respondents’ reactions to cloud storage is gradually moving from 'No way, out of the question,' to 'Sure, under the right circumstances'.”

That view is further supported by the InformationWeek report, where the total number of respondents saying that they have absolutely no plans to use cloud storage has dropped eight percentage points this year, while the number using it in some capacity, whether for email, archiving, or backup and recovery, increased by eight points.

Over time, cloud-based storage is becoming more palatable to enterprise administrators, although most see the technology as a supplement to traditional tier 1 storage products. That view will soften as companies turn more and more to cloud based applications and services.

The simple fact of the matter is that SAN technology (as well as NAS) are designed as high-speed on-premise solutions. However, as applications, services and even data centers move into the cloud, the viability of onsite storage diminishes, because it is always better to locate storage 'close' to the services that consume storage. In other words, if applications and services are running in the cloud, then storage should be placed near those applications and services – which means cloud-based storage, physically located near cloud-based servers, ultimately makes sense.

The irony here is that most purveyors of cloud technologies, storage included, rely on SAN technology in their own data centers, simply shifting the SAN market from the enterprise to the service provider. However, the days of onsite SANs may still be numbered, caused by the migration of other technologies and services into the cloud. The real question here for IT pros and SAN vendors should actually be, how deep will businesses dive into the cloud?

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